Stan Lee - creator, former publisher, Excelsior! of Marvel Comics
Chat with Brian Monroe of - 2000
More than half a century has passed since Stan Lee penned his first comic book hero. During that time, he's created comic book stalwarts like the Incredible Hulk, Spiderman and the X-men, imperfect superheroes who learned timeless truths through trial and error. This summer, the most popular comic book series on the planet springs from pulpy page to silver screen: The X-men go to the movies. Critics heralded the $75 million movie as this summer blockbuster period's X-factor, and with good reason. In its opening weekend it took in more than $57 million.
The legendary Lee sat down with CluelessNoMore reporter Brian Monroe to see why these misunderstood mutants had such a following. The master of the mutants also shares who were the heroes to the hero maker.
CNM: You saw the premiere of X-men the movie. Did it live up to your expectations?
SL: The X-Men Movie more than lived up to my expectations. I thought it was brilliant. I don't know if people realize how difficult it must have been for Bryan Singer to take 5 superheroes and 5 super-villains and a complex, multi-leveled plot, and put them together into a coherent, cohesive and, in my opinion, a thoroughly captivating movie. I thought that the end result was brilliant!
CNM: What's it like to see words and ideas that came from your head up on the big screen?
SL: It's an indescribable feeling to see things you created and written years ago on the big screen at a later date. I was especially proud of the audience's reaction during the showing I attended.
CNM: If the X-men are a band of "freaks and misfits," why do you think they have attracted such a following through the years?
SL: I think that the fact that the X-Men are a band of "freaks and misfits" is the very fact there is such a big following. People can identify with them and care about them. Although their traits are exaggerated, they exemplify the vast differences among all human beings.
CNM: The movie industry killed the Batman franchise. Were you worried the movie industry would do the same thing to X-men when it hit the big screen?
SL: You know, those things only happen if the people that do them don't do them well. Look at James Bond. Those things are done well, and those things have lasted for years and years. If they come up with a good Batman story, it will be popular again. If they do a good job with our characters, they will go on forever. It really depends on how well they are done.
CNM: You were one of the first people to portray blacks and minorities in your comics as equals to everyone else and you did it way before the rest of the country did. Do you consider yourself a civil rights activist?
SL: I don't really consider myself a civil rights activist, I consider myself a human rights activist. I feel if one believes in God, and if God created the world and all living creatures, then one must believe if God created all, then it follows that all living beings as God's creatures, were created equal.
CNM: What was growing up for you like? It seemed like you lived in an environment that embraced different cultures rather than vilified them. Was that the case?
SL: I grew up in New York City in the 20's and 30's. I was lucky enough to live in a mixed racial and religious area with very little prejudice, although I was very much aware of the existence of that very horrible thing.
CNM: Which X-man do you identify with the most?
SL: When I was young I suppose I identified with Wolverine. Now I guess it's easier to identify with Professor X.
CNM: What is it about comic books that are so appealing to adults as well as children?
SL: People like to see stories with pictures. I mean, if you think about it, that is what movies are. The pictures move and the people talk. A comic is inexpensive, comparatively. It's good escapist reading. You could read it in a few minutes while you're waiting to do something by yourself. You could roll it up and put it in your pocket or share it with a friend.
CNM: What made you get into comic books?
SL: It was an accident. I applied for a job at a publishing company, and I didn't even know they made comics. I thought it was regular magazines. And I said, "Well, I'll stay long enough to get some experience." I guess I stayed long enough [laughing].
CNM: Did you think that fifty years later, you would still be in this business?
SL: Never, never in a million years.
CNM: Who are your heroes?
SL: When I was a kid, my heroes were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. I also liked certain actors. I don't know if you remember Errol Flynn, but he was the greatest hero. He was Robin Hood and Captain Blood and he spoke well. He always had a twinkle in his eye. I always wanted to be like Errol Flynn.
CNM: He always got the ladies.
SL: Yeah, that part of it was pretty good too.
CNM: What is the best and worst advice anyone has ever given you?
SL: I never got advice. I just remember one thing that has nothing to do with comics that a teacher told me when I was about 10 or 11 years old. She wrote in my autograph book when I left her class: "The greatest are the humblest." And I always wondered why she wrote that.
CNM: What is the best part about being Stan Lee?
SL: Having fun. I love the work I do. There is always something to do. There is always something happening. There is always something to look forward to that is exciting, whether it's doing an interview or going to a convention or writing a story.
CNM: How will the Internet, since you are getting into it, affect the comic book industry?
SL: I have no idea. I don't know if it will affect the industry at all. But if it does, it will be in a good way. I am doing stories that are like comic books. There are fantasies and superheroes on my website: StanLee.Net! If anybody enjoys these, then maybe they'll buy comics.
CNM: What would you tell aspiring artists who want to get where you are?
SL: If you want to be an artist, draw, draw, draw. Bring a notebook and draw the person in front of you. Draw the straps that hang down. If you're in the street, draw a trash can, or draw the cars passing by. To do comics you need to know how to draw everything. You never know what a story will call for.
Written by Brian Monroe /

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